Travelling Green

October 13, 2000

By Michael Jessen

A green hotel is the right place to stay for the frequent traveller with an environmental conscience. Green, not as in name or paint colour, but green as in saving energy, conserving water, recycling and reducing waste.

This type of environmental efficiency is not only gaining popularity with guests, but hotel owners and developers are also discovering cost savings that result in an improved bottom line.

Suppose you have a choice between staying at a hotel in the top five- percent or the bottom five percent for conserving water. The more efficient hotel will use slightly more than 100 gallons of water per guest per day while the inefficient hotel will probably use about 350 gallons each day for each guest. If both hotels have 100 rooms and they are occupied 200 days during the year, the least efficient hotel will use 5 million more gallons per year than the most efficient hotel.

The same kinds of differences will also occur in fuel use, electricity, chemical use, and garbage volume. Now you get the idea that the difference between the environmental performance of the worst hotels and the best is phenomenal.

How do you find out which hotels are green? One way is to ask the area's tourist association. In places from Ontario to Vermont to the Caribbean, tourists associations are promoting and marketing green hotels. The Concordia Eco-Tents Resort on St. John Island in the Virgin Islands, for instance, is solar powered and collects rainwater. Waste is composted and its rooms are breeze cooled with wind scoops.

The Fremont resort Smugglers' Notch, in Smugglers' Notch, Vermont, is investing in an on-premises sewage treatment facility called the living machine. Using bacteria and other environmentally sound techniques, the system will convert up to 30,000 gallons of raw sewage daily into irrigation or toilet water.

And in Philadelphia, Barry Dimson, president of EcoSmart Healthy Properties, touts the Sheraton at Rittenhouse Square as the most environmentally sound hotel in the continental United States.

The green Sheraton emerged when five floors of a 17-story office building underwent a $20 million conversion into a 193-room hotel. Of the approximately $100,000 invested per room, including public areas, only $400 was needed to make each room green, says Dimson. The money was spent on such ecological concepts as an air-filtration system, organic furniture and fabrics, a laundry plant, as well as an atrium with 40-foot tall bamboo, which generates 35 percent more oxygen than most atrium plants. According to Dimson, he'll get a threefold return on the $400 in three years.

From a marketing point of view, these types of hotels may be creating a niche where a premium can be charged. A Travel Industry Association study shows that 85 percent of travelers would stay at environmentally friendly lodging if given a choice, even if the room rate was 8 percent higher.

The study, however, didn't reveal how much more travelers would spend for hotels that are healthier than most people's homes. That is an issue of increasing concern to travelers as more is learned about toxins emitted from paints and dyes and the impact of spores and fungus on respiration. According to a Los Angeles-based indoor environmental solutions provider, an air-filtration system is not only better for hotel guests but makes employees more productive.

Wayne Hansen, director of engineering for Mintie Corporation says a clean air system will improve the energy efficiency of a hotel's heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system and provide a return on investment in two to five years depending on location.

The Green Hotels Association is a trade association and mail-order business with an inventory of environmental products for hotels, lodges, and bed and breakfasts. The Houston, Texas-based group boasts about 200 members representing more than 17,000 rooms across the U.S.

"Since we've marketed ourselves as a green hotel, occupancy has increased by at least 25 percent," says Janet Byrd, director of sales and environmental programs for The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine. "People are coming to stay with us because we're a green hotel. They consider it an amenity. Corporate, leisure, and wedding guests all choose us because we're green." Byrd likes the GHA green hotel guidelines because they are easy for employees to understand and use. "The employees first have to buy into the idea, then you pass it on to the guests," says Byrd.

In British Columbia, B.C. Hydro - the provincial electrical utility - has a program called Power Smart Green Hotels which helps participating properties implement measures to conserve water, save energy, and prevent trash. Seven of the 40 designated establishments are located in the East and West Kootenays.

The East Kootenay Power Smart hotels are the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and the Fairmont Vacation Villas at Riverside & Hills, the Pine Inn at Panorama Resort, the Radium Hot Springs Lodge, and the Springbrook Resort in Skookumchuk. In the West Kootenay, both Power Smart properties have surpassed the program's criteria - earning a "Green Hotel Plus" designation - and both are located in Nelson.

The Heritage Inn was not only the first hotel in the Kootenays to earn the "Green Hotel Plus" honor, but it also received a certificate of recognition from the City of Nelson. Inn The Garden Bed and Breakfast is the only B&B in the province to achieve B.C. Hydro's "Green Hotel Plus" status for its two beautifully restored heritage homes, both tastefully decorated with plants, wicker and antiques.

Ryan Martin, manager of the Heritage Inn, says the hotel installed low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators, and toilets, refillable wall soap and shampoo dispensers, compact fluorescent energy efficient lighting, and recycling bins in each hotel room. Paper recycling boxes are also in all office areas. Hotel guests also have the option of declining fresh linens and towels every day of their stay, resulting in greatly lowered laundry costs.

"It's paying off definitely," says Martin. "You see the difference in the bottom line."

Guests also like the program as many of them mention their appreciation on the comment cards, Martin adds. The hotel has the Power Smart Green Hotel logo on its stationery and displays it on its web site.

"It's a win-win," the hotel's manager says. "It was not that difficult to implement and I definitely feel it was worth it."

Power Smart Green Hotels receive a plaque for display in the lobby, as well as a special listing in Tourism B.C.'s "Super Natural British Columbia Accommodation Guide," and promotion on B.C. Hydro's web site.

Considering all the benefits, more area hotels should consider joining the program, especially since October is PowerSense Month of Energy Efficiency. PowerSense is sponsored by the electric utilities of Grand Forks, Nelson Hydro, and West Kootenay Power.

Because of its multiplier effect on guests, staff and suppliers as well as the central role that hotels play within local communities, the hotel sector is uniquely placed to provide the impetus for change in business behaviour within tourism.

ONE SMALL STEP - Dust your light bulbs. A really dusty bulb uses the same amount of electricity as a clean one, but may produce 50 percent less light. For sanitizing your toilet bowl, use vinegar instead of commercial cleanser. Vinegar is less harmful to the living microbes that the sewage treatment plants depend on to treat wastewater. If you have weeds growing in your driveway or sidewalk, you can kill the weeds with boiling water instead of a commercial herbicide.

RESOURCES - A list of B.C.'s Power Smart Green Hotels can be found on the web at http://eww.bchydro.bc.ca/powersmart/shop/greenhotels/index.html. Hotels interested in seeking green hotel designation can find a contact form on the web site http://eww.bchydro.bc.ca/powerpartnerships/products/solutions/energy_use/certification.html. The Heritage Inn web site is www.heritageinn.org and Inn The Garden is at www.innthegarden.com. The Hotel Association of Canada Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program established by TerraChoice Environmental Services (www.terrachoice.ca) can be found online at www.terrachoice.ca/hotelwebsite/indexcanada.htm. An excellent green hotel keeping fact sheet can be found at www.ecotourism.org. The International Hotels Environment Initiative - a program of The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum - has helpful information at www.ihei.org as does CAST - the Caribbean Association for Sustainable Tourism - at www.cha-cast.com. Green Globe 21 is the worldwide certification program for sustainable travel and tourism and their web address is www.greenglobe21.com. The Green Hotels Association based in Houston, Texas has a catalog of environmental products for the lodging industry. Contact the association at (713) 789-8889, e-mail green@greenhotels.com, or check out their web site at www.greenhotels.com. The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine has received a dozen awards for its environmental efforts that are detailed on the site www.thecolonyhotel.com/maine/environment.html. Visit the Co-op America web site at www.coopamerica.org/travel.htm for green travel tips and search their Green Pages for environmentally responsible travel businesses.


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